Morning Exercise Jumpstarts Your Day

The benefits of early morning workouts far outweigh the risks.
The medical literature is quite clear about the best time to exercise--it's whenever you can.

Yet there is a debate in the fitness world as to whether cardiovascular exercise early in the morning poses a health risk greater than the health and fitness benefits?

The answer: Not a chance.

Cardiologists from The Cleveland Clinic, a world leader in coronary care and research, wrote an editorial on the subject and published their thoughts in The Cleveland Clinic Heart Advisor Newsletter.

The article, titled "Schedule Your Day for Maximum Cardiovascular Health," put the issue of health and fitness benefits vs. medical risks in perspective.

The Physiology of Waking

To understand the cardiologists' perspective, you have to understand the physiology of waking from a sound sleep in the early morning.

According to the newsletter, "Starting at about 4 a.m., levels of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol begin rising toward their highest background levels of the day. Like biological alarm clocks, these chemical signals boost blood pressure after its hours-long nighttime dip.

"As dawn approaches, your heart begins to work harder, pumping a few extra beats per minute. Your whole cardiovascular system has to adjust as you stand for the first time. Vessels contract to help overcome gravity's pull and ensure an ample supply of blood to the brain so you can take your first few steps without stumbling...

"Research suggests that you may be most vulnerable (at this time) to heart attacks, heart disease-related chest pain, strokes, heart rhythm abnormalities, sudden cardiac death and deaths associated with congestive heart failure during morning hours (August 2005 Journal of Biological Rhythms)."

But Cleveland Clinic medical experts indicate these findings shouldn't keep you from scheduling exercise at daybreak, especially if that is the most convenient time of day for you.

"In fact, it's more dangerous to skip exercise out of fear than to schedule the workouts before 8 a.m.," according to Dr. Deepak L. Bhatt, director of the Interventional Cardiology Fellowship at The Cleveland Clinic.

"If I had complete control of my schedule, which usually includes early-morning surgical procedures, I would exercise first thing in the morning," Bhatt said.

Why Work Out in the Morning?

There are plenty of benefits to physical activity first thing in the morning.

"Early morning workouts rev up your metabolism, jump start your energy level and accelerate your ability to burn up calories," said Tina Schmidt-McNulty, exercise physiologist and clinical exercise specialist on staff at Purdue University Calumet's Fitness Center.

Schmidt-McNulty sees to it that the doors of the fitness center open at 5:30 a.m. and supervises the members.

"Early morning workouts give you a chance to put the world on hold for an hour and think about the upcoming events and activities of the day, or think about whatever you want to think about," she said. "Exercise also gets the endorphins flowing, so when you finish you are relaxed and in a good mood to start the rest of your day."

Another Cleveland Clinic expert agrees the benefits of early morning exercise far outweigh the extra risks you may face.

"In our cardiac rehabilitation programs, we don't see any increased risk from morning exercise," reported Gordon Blackburn, program director of cardiac rehabilitation. "Just be sure if you have heart disease that you first talk over any early morning exercise plans with your doctor."

There are plenty of practical reasons for choosing early morning workouts.

"If I make myself get up early in the morning and get into the fitness center by 5:30 a.m. to get my workout done, I don't have to worry about how I'm going to find the time during the rest of the day to exercise," said Sylvester Porras, a long-time Purdue Calumet Fitness Center member and accomplished distance runner.

"I start the day off on a positive note before I head into work. I really think the psychological and physiological benefits outweigh any risks," Porras said.

John Bobalik is an exercise physiologist and coordinator of Purdue University Calumet's Fitness Center. Contact him at

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